LOS ANGELES - The big winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was Sian Heder’s coming-of-age drama "CODA", which earned four awards, including the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award — and it’s incredibly clear why the film has brought home such recognition.
With quippy dialogue and meaningful conversations alike, "CODA," which is now streaming on Apple TV+, ultimately provides viewers with a perfect example of communicating love through silence.
About "CODA": a meaningful, authentic story
The movie, adapted from the 2014 French film "La Famille Belier," centers on seventeen-year-old Ruby, played by Emilia Jones, who is the sole hearing member of a deaf family – a CODA, or child of deaf adults, hence the film’s name.
Jones does an extraordinary job capturing the weight of responsibility she feels as the only member of a deaf household — acting as interpreter for her parents (Troy Kotsur and Oscar winner Marlee Matlin) and working the family's struggling fishing boat with her father and older brother (Daniel Durant) every day before school.
The movie effectively allows viewers to empathize with each of its main characters, from Ruby’s struggles as a caretaker to deaf parents to her family’s struggle to rely on their daughter for assistance.
Still from movie "CODA"
But, when Ruby joins her high school’s choir club, she discovers a gift for singing and soon finds herself drawn to her duet partner Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo).
Encouraged by her enthusiastic, eccentric and tough-love choirmaster (Eugenio Derbez) to apply to a prestigious music school, Ruby finds herself torn between the obligations she feels to her family and the pursuit of her own dreams.
Should you see "CODA" or skip it?
From the beginning, it’s clear the filmmakers of "CODA" understood the responsibility to accurately and effectively depict Deaf culture and American Sign Language.
All the deaf family members in Heder’s version are portrayed by deaf performers, a significant and effective choice on the part of the film’s director and casting department, and one which provides even more meaning and raw authenticity to the film.
Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin and Daniel Durant in "CODA," now streaming on Apple TV+
But that’s not the only choice that enhances the film’s intimate, emotional feel. Both Paula Huidobro’s cinematography and the production design, led by Diane Lederman, effectively capture the coastal town of Gloucester (about 30 miles outside of Boston) and bring the blue-collar Massachusetts fishing community to vibrant life.
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Heder, who also wrote the screenplay, spent time studying Deaf culture in order to write from a more informed perspective. She began taking American Sign Language classes and interviewing Deaf subjects and hearing children of Deaf adults—known as CODAs.
And her diligence pays off, as Heder seamlessly incorporates scenes featuring only the film's deaf cast members, immersing the audience in ASL, with subtitles as a useful aid.
In a pivotal on-screen moment, Heder places the film’s perspective on the deaf family attending Ruby’s concert. The soundtrack and all other noises are cut out, allowing viewers to fully immerse themselves in the experience that is silence.
It’s this soul and depth that takes the movie from feel-good and predictable to one that is long-remembered and masterfully achieved.
PG-13. 111 minutes. In theaters and streaming on Apple TV+ Friday, Aug. 13. Dir: Sian Heder. Featuring: Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant, John Fiore, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Eugenio Derbez.
You can also check out other award-winning movies on FOX’s free streaming service Tubi:
Little Miss Sunshine(2006): "A hopeful seven-year-old gets invited to compete in a beauty pageant, with her oddball family tagging along for a revealing road trip."
Beast Beast (2021): "The lives of a high school drama club kid, her new skateboarding bae, and her gun-toting neighbor converge in tragedy in a sleepy Southern town."
Lion (2016): "A young man makes an emotional journey to reconnect with his birth family in India after being tragically separated from them years earlier."
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008): "Two American women are taken in by the splendor of Spain, but not as much as they are drawn to a rugged painter and his sultry former lover."
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About the writer: Stephanie Weaver is a Los Angeles-based journalist. She is a host of the national streaming show, LiveNOW from FOX, and is a digital content creator for FOX TV. Find her on Facebook and Instagram at @StephWeaverTV.